Charles Lyell and Principles of Geology

From the Stores #2: Gideon Mantell | Through Lyell’s Eyes (

Gideon Mantell was a frequent correspondent of Charles Lyell a fellow early english geologist. Their life-long relationship started with a bang in 1821, when Lyell casually called on Mantell while visiting his old school at Midhurst. Having heard tell of the doctor from some workmen in the nearby quarry, Lyell rode the 25 miles over the South Downs and knocked on Mantell’s door nearly at dusk. Presumably they might have known each other’s names from the Geological Society, but one would imagine the visit would still have come as surprise at best. However, common interest prevailed, a well-stocked fossil cabinet provided great amount of conversation, and the two reportedly gossiped until morning. (Bailey, p. 48) Their published letters cover all from scientific theories, discoveries, to the latest gossip and accounts from the GeolSoc and Royal Society, of which they were both members. This extract comes from a recent blog by the archivist of the Charles Lyell collection at the University of Edinburgh library see above.

The library holds the collection of Lyell’s papers, correspondence, 150 geological specimens and also, since 2019, his many notebooks. These notebooks, which are in the process of being digitised, set out the progression of his thinking that helped him form the theories in his key work the Principles of Geology published 1830-33. Lyell travelled widely and described, and illustrated in detail, volcanos, earthquakes, stratography, glaciers and how the geology of the earth evolved over what he called “deep time”. His views on evolution chimed with those of Darwin and Russell Wallace

An analysis of the correspondence between Lyell and Mantell was published Alan Wennerbom in 1999 for his D Phil thesis entitled Charles Lyell and Gideon Mantell, 1821-1852: Their Quest for Elite Status in English Geology. Supplementary Volume: The Correspondence between Charles Lyell and his family and Gideon Algernon Mantell: 1821-1852.

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